this is how to write a cover letter that will get you a job

I’ve read thousands, maybe tens of thousands, of cover letters in my career. If you’re thinking that sounds like really boring reading, you’re right. What I can tell you from enduring that experience is that most cover letters are terrible – and not only that, but squandered opportunities. When a cover letter is done well, it can increase your chances of getting an interview, but the vast majority fail that test.

At New York Magazine today, I wrote about how to do cover letters right.

{ 94 comments… read them below }

  1. H3llifIknow*

    So, just a question out of curiosity, to the peanut gallery: Are cover letters STILL that much of a “thing”? I am a govt. contractor and have been for 25+ years. In that time, I’ve worked for 7 different companies. I have never once been asked for, or submitted on my own, a cover letter with my resume and/or application. So, is it that it’s just more of a “commercial” sector thing or that they just are not in use as commonly as it would seem from reading this site. No opinion on cover letters or their value, just purely curious.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      I find that they are used a lot in business. Every job I’ve ever worked has required a cover letter. And I find the advice given to be great stuff; far too many people waste this opportunity.

      I imagine that they are less of a thing in government, where you are required to not evaluate people on the basis of certain protected classes. And an easy way to do is to eliminate as much identifying information as possible.

    2. Hiring Mgr*

      I think it’s very industry dependent. I work in technology sales/marketing and we never use them, but clearly in some industries they’re crucial.

    3. Insert pun here*

      I hire junior folks into a writing-heavy job — I don’t even consider applications without cover letters.

    4. Kimmy Schmidt*

      Used a lot in academia, for both faculty and staff positions. I find them very valuable, especially for folks applying as a second career.

      1. Wannabe Expat*

        Seconding this. As someone in higher academia, it’s all about the cover letter and having the materials to support your claims (CV, teacher reviews, etc.).

    5. Keeley Jones, The Independent Woman*

      I think it depends on the type of job and the company. I’m a business analyst, and in my last search I didn’t do one cover letter, and most of the ATS didn’t have a good spot to submit one. The ones that did I did not send a cover letter. I got plenty of interviews. I don’t know if I would have gotten more with one or not. If I wasn’t getting interviews I would have started including them.

      1. goducks*

        Not just the type of job and the company, but the individual HR or hiring manager, too. The thing that people don’t really understand about getting hired is there is no secret hack to get you the perfect job. So much of it comes down to the likes/dislikes/priorities of the people making the decisions. What is critical to one hiring manager is a total dislike for another. And you can’t know it from the outside.

        Like Alison, I’ve read thousands of applications. I never read a cover letter before a resume. I often don’t read a cover letter at all. But when I do, some of the ways that Alison suggests writing seem way too verbose to me, and I’d be turned off–especially by a cover letter that was a whole page! Alison and others feel differently. So writing a letter like she suggests would be an asset if she were making the decision. Writing a very short letter of interest showing you’re a human being that’s interested at best won’t hurt and may help a smidge when I’m hiring, but as an applicant you can’t know what will make you stand out to the hiring manager. I prefer the dreaded skills resume, I give preference to them. Others HATE them.

        1. Michelle Smith*

          Can I ask what information you expect to be included in such a short letter of interest? I’m curious because it’s often a struggle for me to trim a cover letter down to just a single page. I’m wondering what a person would even fit into such a short letter that would be more than “I am interested in this job” – which I think is covered by the fact that I’m applying. Thanks in advance if you happen to see this comment and have time to respond!

          1. Eukomos*

            I target about two-thirds of a page for cover letters and have a pretty consistent system. Paragraph one: introduce yourself succinctly, including a brief description of your professional background for the job. So like if you used to be an executive assistant/event manger and are applying for a strict even manager job, call yourself an event manager in this paragraph and don’t bang on about your irrelevant experience. Basically you’re telling them you’ve been paid to do this work before.

            Paragraph two: more detail on how you’re experienced in the job duties mentioned in the letter, ideally with quick references to stories you’d tell as examples in the interview. This should be the longest paragraph.

            Paragraph three: why you are excited to do this job in this office. Feel free to lay it on a little thick and flatter them, but only for a sentence or two. Wrap up with “looking forward to hearing from you” and you’re done! Go back and edit, see if anything can be shortened. Short is good, people are reading like 30 of these! Show off your editing skills.

        2. The Shenanigans*

          Yes, it’s definitely true that everyone has their preferences. Good hiring managers don’t let preferences get in the way of hiring the best person, though. If the best person for your job based on their resume and the content of the cover letter was also the person who wrote a page, I would hope you’d still interview them. Unless, of course, it’s necessary to be extremely concise in your job. In which case, their writing a whole page self-selected them out of a job they wouldn’t be a fit for. Which is also helpful.

        3. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

          So much of it comes down to the likes/dislikes/priorities of the people making the decisions. What is critical to one hiring manager is a total dislike for another. And you can’t know it from the outside.

          Maybe it’s just my limitations kicking in, but that’s how the Cover Letter conversation always sounds in my ears. “Just read the Hiring Manager’s mind and write what they want to hear; it’s so easy I don’t know why I’m explaining it.”

          1. Nina*

            I suspect we have similar limitations – I imagine writing it to someone I do know who is in the same field as the job (e.g. big corporate aerospace and tiny startup aerospace have completely different tones and values, wetlab work is different again).

            If they dislike the way I normally write letters enough to throw it on the discard pile immediately, we probably wouldn’t have worked well together anyway.

            1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

              I just ignore the cover letter entirely.

              I’ll allocate a finite amount of time to a prospective job; update résumé, fill out application, research, etc. If the hiring manager also needs a redundant document donated… I’m already on to the next opportunity.

              1. GeorgiaPeach*

                The whole point of this article is that the cover letter shouldn’t be a redundant document – if it is then you’re doing it wrong.

    6. Michelle Smith*

      I’ve worked in government, legal, and nonprofit jobs and also applied to a lot of jobs in academia (think career services, not teaching). Every single job I’ve ever applied to required a cover letter.

    7. Lea*

      I wrote a cover letter for the last job I got but it was like ‘I’ve been doing this ten years and want the job here is my application’

    8. Dovasary Balitang*

      If I apply for a job on Indeed, I rarely bother. If a job posting takes me off Indeed, I provide a cover letter. Post-university, I’ve never been given an offer to a job I’ve applied to with a cover letter, but I’ve received plenty of offers without. Weird.

    9. Just Another HR Pro*

      I work in HR for a large well known tech company and we don’t require them and I never even read them. I find 99% of them to be full of BS anyway – I don’t need for you to tell me why YOU think you’re a good fit for the role. This is why I love the ATS system – it stores the Cover Letter separately so I don’t even need to open it.

      just my 2 cents and how I personally do things.

      1. NeedRain47*

        I mean the reason 99% of them are BS is b/c they’re not writing the way that Alison recommends.

    10. Me (I think)*

      I hired my replacement last year, and the cover letter was a huge help in understanding more about the applicant and their experience. Or lack thereof :)

    11. WantonSeedStitch*

      I am a manager in a non-academic role at a university. I have a strong preference for seeing a cover letter with a resume. Our application site requests one, but it’s not mandatory for submitting an application, so we don’t always get one. I find them very helpful for giving context to the resume, and for giving me some insight into what’s motivating the person to apply for the job. Sometimes they are helpful to me in a negative way: they can sometimes indicate that an applicant doesn’t really know what the job is about, or that they are hoping to focus on a kind of work that’s actually only a small part of the job. Additionally, I hire for roles where strong written communication skills are vital, and a cover letter can be a good indicator of those skills.

      1. Leia Oregano*

        Also higher ed here in a similar non-academic department here and I agree! We can choose whether a cover letter is required or not for our postings, and I’d say the vast majority of our non-student postings require a cover letter, and most of our student postings (at least the public facing ones) do as well. My field is very niche, so not a lot of applicants, especially in my region, and so we often see applicants from outside the industry who don’t have experience doing exactly what we do. It’s very, very helpful to see a cover letter in these cases, since communication skills are also important in these roles and we like to see how folks justify their existing skills and think they can transfer over. Like you said, it also gives us an idea of who read our job posting closely or who didn’t do their research, especially if they’re coming from outside the field, like most of our applicants tend to.

    12. Unkempt Flatware*

      Local, state, and regional governments planner here….always have been required and I know they were read as well. Mine have gotten me jobs I’m wildly unqualified for due to their quality.

    13. Elspeth*

      I’ve been the hiring manager for two positions in the Insurance industry in the past year and if the candidates submitted cover letters, they weren’t passed along to me.

    14. Turanga Leela*

      Government lawyer here and they are definitely a thing. Every time I’ve done hiring for my office, most applicants have cover letters, and they’re very helpful. It’s a writing-heavy gig, so we want to know that people can write (we also ask for a writing sample), and they help to explain why people are interested in the job, especially if that’s not obvious from a resume.

    15. fhqwhgads*

      I think it’s less sector-specific than a lot of people believe. There are certainly trends that are sector-specific (more likely to be asked for one in X, less likely in Y), but I think overall it depends on the employer.
      But the most important thing is if the job posting asks for a cover letter, even if you feel like “nah, in this sector it doesn’t matter”, for that employer, it does. My last three employers all asked for them, and I know from being adjacent to the people doing the hiring, when they get applications without one, they toss it on the basis of the person either doesn’t pay attention to what’s asked of them or thinks it doesn’t apply to them, and either way, we don’t want to work with that person.

      1. Midwest Manager*


        My employer requires letters, and the ATS is set to require two documents to be uploaded. When I get 2 copies of the resume as the documents, I cannot consider the applicant becuase the materials aren’t complete.

    16. Grim*

      Just about every job I’ve ever applied for in the last five years has required a cover letter! We’re talking minimum wage stuff like food service and retail, but also various entry-level roles in science and healthcare. No idea if anyone was ever reading them, because I never heard anything back from the vast majority of these applications, but the job listings certainly seemed to suggest that a cover letter was expected.

    17. coverme, Dan!!*

      Hi H3llifIknow….
      This is my own personal experience working for government, non-profit and recently a multinational.
      I highlighted previous skills and abilities which were in the “the job” I was applying for. Worked for me and is working for me as I am transiting to a new idea/ career development.

    18. tamarack etc.*

      Academia / academic research (NTT) – absolutely. It’s also usually a little longer (2 pages! not 5!) to really highlight why you, specifically, would be a great fit for the org you’re applying to, in particular.

    19. Nina*

      Ohhhhhh heck ya

      I’m in aerospace myself and I’m currently on the hiring committee for a community-leadership position (long story). especially if the hiring is occurring across national borders, a cover letter is the difference between ‘straight to bin’ and ‘oh wait their spouse is a citizen and they’re looking to move closer to his family, so we don’t need to sponsor their visa after all, they’re actually looking like a great fit’. Or the difference between ‘not US person, can’t get a security clearance, NEXT’ and ‘she’s worked with this specific class of controlled substances before under the exact same legislation, maybe we can swing this’.

    20. AS*

      I’m a manager of a nonprofit. We always require a cover letter from applicants and I find a good cover letter much more informative than a résumé.

      Attitude and values are extremely important in our work, and it’s very hard for that to come through in a résumé. A cover letter is the perfect place for applicants to demonstrate how they think about the work and the communities that we work with.

      When I’m reviewing applications cover letters get way more consideration than resumes.

    21. NotAnotherManager!*

      I like them for entry-level positions because the roles I hire for are written communication-heavy and customer service-y, and they can be differentiating factors when all the resumes are from candidates got equally good grades, have equivalent work/internship experiences, and are generally of the same caliber. A one-page cover letter can show attention to detail, grammar, spelling, and an ability to communicate clearly and concisely – all important for the work to be performed.

      For experienced positions, I tend to only care if someone’s applying for a position that doesn’t align with their resume – a stretch position or industry-switcher. I will always read them, but I’m most interested when they tell me something I can’t figure out from their resume.

    22. Virtual Assistant who Really Exists*

      I’m coordinating an internship for a client right now, and I’m reading cover letters before resumes because they are the candidate’s chance to show genuine enthusiasm for the job. I find them to be an excellent differentiator.

    23. allathian*

      It depends on the industry and cover letters may be used more in some cultures than others.

      I work for the government in Finland in a comms-adjacent job. I couldn’t imagine anyone getting an interview for a job on our team without a good cover letter.

    24. CoverLetterOverhyped*

      As someone who’s interviewed candidates at nearly every job I’ve ever had I’ve never once seen a cover letter from anyone. If they’re submitted they don’t make it out of HR.

      As a candidate I have a half dozen or so standard short cover letters that I may customize a bit but unless I really want a job that I think requires my connecting the dots regarding why I’m a good fit I don’t spend much time on it.

      As time has gone on it’s become harder and harder to include a cover letter when applying via Indeed or LinkedIn and in some interfaces it’s impossible. I generally won’t try unless the ad makes a big deal about including one.

      I’ve never had an interview where an interviewer had my cover letter in front of them or one where I was asked a question about something on my cover letter (I’ve been on hundreds of interviews).

  2. Former professor*

    I just want to say thank you for this advice. I used it when I was leaving academia and applying to “real” jobs for the first time in 20-ish years, and my current boss actually commented in our initial interview “I’d usually use this as more of a phone screener to see if you fit the job requirements, but your cover letter did such a good job making that all clear that I think we can skip past that.”

  3. Safely Retired*

    Trivial edit from a PITA nit picker… 9. “Keep it under one page”. So, under as in free space at the bottom? Or under one, as in zero? How about “Keep it to one page”?
    Great stuff. Too bad I don’t need any of it any more.

    1. delazeur*

      Nah. “Page” can be either a continuous or a discrete unit of measure, depending on context. “My cover letter is a page and a half; I need to trim it down” and “this book is 350 pages long” are both grammatically correct.

    2. Peanut Hamper*

      Yeah, it’s a math thing. You’re thinking of the number of pages, which is a discrete quantity (i.e., 1, 2, or 3), and the advice is about the length of the writing, which is a continuous quantity.

      So “under a page” means “under a page in length“.

      Thanks! Now I’ve got another example to add to my calculus slides.

  4. Jane Bingley*

    While my boss is technically the hiring manager, as his EA it generally falls to me to review applications and do initial screenings before looping him in on my favourite candidates.

    Alison’s advice is excellent. I read all the cover letters I get (we get fewer applications because we’re both a smaller organization and in a bit of a niche field) and if I see a great one, I’ll save that person’s info for the next job opening that could fit them. We’ve had several situations where people applied for one job and got another because of a strong application that demonstrated their interest.

    I would add, in the non-profit sector, that your cover letter should also briefly explain why the core work of the organization matters to you. This is important because it shows that A) you actually understand the core work of the organization; and B) you have a link to it in some meaningful way, in a field where passion is absolutely part of the hiring process.

    A recent example: say our organization rehabilitates raccoons. One cover letter had a line in it that said “I’ve always thought raccoons are sweet animals, and I recently advised my co-op on how to secure garbage cans so that we don’t accidentally get them hooked on people food.” Another cover letter said “I saw that your organization helps people adopt wild animals, and I owned a lot of adopted dogs growing up.” One person got an interview and the job. The other didn’t even get a screening call.

  5. Angry socialist*

    I hate cover letters. I don’t actually know why or whether I’d be good at a job based on a 1-paragraph description that is mostly boilerplate about EEOC. I am okay at my current job but not a genius. The reasons you should interview me are all in my resume. I despise the time-suck of trying to make myself sound friendly.

    Unfortunately, I still need cover letters for my field. I hate it. My field contains some writing, but I’m happy to send published articles if you want to know that I can write. None of the writing in my field comes in the form of cover letters! It’s so exhausting.

  6. Heidi*

    I’m wondering how many of the applicants who don’t write really specific cover letters just don’t have the kinds of characteristics and accomplishments that make a cover letter really stand out. There’s got to be some, right?

    1. Capt. Liam Shaw*

      Working in bank operations, cover letters really don’t add much. They can be useful in explaining why you want to move from say credit card operations to BSA ops. But beyond that folks really look at what duties you have and want to see a gradual increase in title…. ex Processor to Specialist to Analyst to Team Lead.

    2. Wannabe Expat*

      For people applying to multiple jobs, I can see that. I had a friend looking for steady remote work and she got tons of interviews with a semi-generic (with some slightly customization) cover letters but because she didn’t really research the companies and the position, it took her a while to find a gig. Some people see apply to jobs as breadth instead of depth endeavors. Really, they can be both.

  7. Teapot Unionist*

    I had heard that cover letters aren’t really a thing anymore, but I just got a new job and multiple people on the interview committee commented on how much they enjoyed reading my cover letter. I took the job description and pulled out the soft skills from it that weren’t included on my actual resume and told stories about myself that highlighted those skills. I really viewed both the cover letter and the resume as two pieces of the same package. (I got the first job I applied for, and honestly thought it would take multiple applications around the area I was looking to relocate to before I got an offer, so I must have done something right). I think that if you treat them as perfunctory, they aren’t really a thing, but if you use them properly when they are required, they are a really great way to get your resume into the serious contender pile.

    1. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

      Agreed. A good cover letter can be a great amplifier and introduction for a candidate.

      A poor cover letter is neutral at best, and could drag down an application if it’s carelessly done.

    2. AS*

      In my experience, applying for fewer jobs, but taking the time to write an excellent cover letter has been extremely effective. I’ve generally had a better than 50% success rate for getting interviews.

      Obviously, experience level, the job, industry and all kinds of other factors might make this less of an effective strategy for some people, but it’s been very effective for me, and has resulted in getting jobs that I actually am excited about.

    3. SD*

      I worked for a state agency 10+ years ago and the HR telling of the time was address how you meet the minimum and preferred qualifications of the job because there was a point’s system to getting interviewed and hired.. so I had to write ridiculous statements like, “I have 10+ years experience using computers and am proficient in Excel and Word documents.”

  8. NoOneWillSeeThisComment*

    At my current job, I was switching industries. I had some medical priorities when I was applying so I didn’t even write a full cover letter, just copied and pasted two of the three paragraphs from one I had made for a similar job.
    When HR called to phone screen me, she said she looked at my resume and didn’t understand why I applied. Then she said she saw my cover letter and it made sense! Because I was able to use my cover letter to explain how my experience in a different industry fit the role they were looking for.
    Never assume what people will glean from your resume, always use some sort of opportunity to submit a cover letter explaining just how great you are ;)

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      This! I’ve always said that a good cover letter is a bridge between your resume and the posted job description.

      “You want A? I’ve got A here, here, and here. You want B? I’ve got B here and here. You want C? I’ve never done C, but I’ve done S extensively, and it is very similar.”

      1. Angry socialist*

        When I write my cover letters to explain this, it always ends up as a recapitulation of my resume! Your job ad says you want XYZ. I’ve done X in A situation and have extensive experience on Y and Z…. all of which is on my resume! I don’t know how I’m supposed to address the job ad without just… saying my resume in different words? It’s so maddening.

    2. Lily Rowan*

      To me, that is when the cover letter is most important. If I’m hiring for a Senior Basket Weaver, and I see from your resume that you’ve been a Basket Weaver for five years, the cover letter isn’t that important. If you’re working in some other field, but can draw the lines for me in the cover letter, that helps a TON.

  9. Joanna*

    I work in higher ed, and cover letters don’t seem to matter. I write excellent ones and am passed over for interviews at my institution often. A position opened in my department, which I applied for. I really knocked it out of the park with my cover letter. It was the best one I’ve ever written. My manager chose not to consider my candidacy, and instead hired an external applicant whose cover letter and resume I saw. Both were atrocious – riddled with spelling and grammatical errors, and the resume didn’t even include his most recent job. The cover letter was very general. It was basically, “My name is So-and-So, and I have worked in higher ed for 10 years. I want to continue to develop my skills and hope I can do that at Blahblah University.”

    I don’t plan to write elaborate cover letters for future applications.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      I would ask you to reconsider this stance.

      Sadly, it sounds as if your manager is bad at hiring. You shouldn’t internalize any attitudes from that. Plus, as someone who has done their fair share of interviewing, we don’t hire just on the basis of the resume and cover letter. There may be a lot about this candidate that showed up in the interview that was not on his resume that you are not aware of.

      1. Joanna*

        My manager definitely is terrible at hiring. The external candidate is one of the dumbest people I’ve ever met.

        As a person in her mid-30s who has worked in various roles in my industry for almost 15 years, I realize hiring isn’t based just on the resume and cover letter. (I was part of the hiring committee for this position after the manager declined my candidacy, and have interviewed people in my previous positions as well. Honestly, your comment came off a little patronizing.)

        However, I always thought the resume and cover letter at least weeded people out for things like lack of attention to detail. Based on times I’ve seen the (often subpar) resumes and cover letters of ultimately successful candidates, I’ve become jaded. There have been several other instances where I spent a lot of time and effort on writing excellent cover letters for jobs I was well-qualified for, and was not offered an interview. But, in those cases I didn’t see the cover letter of the hired person, so they may have written an even better one. I do plan to write more general, less time-intensive cover letters from here on out.

        1. Michelle Smith*

          I’m also in my mid-30s and I don’t think that person’s comment was patronizing. I agree with their advice. I know when I was job searching, I was truly baffled why some people got interviews when I didn’t. Then I would later find out it was for reasons out of my control (personal connections to people in the organization, more experience than me in X than Y, bias against people with my background, etc.). I think that’s all that person was trying to do – encourage you by reminding you that you could have been the most qualified with the best cover letter and credentials, and there could still be reasons you would have no knowledge of that resulted in someone else being selected for the interview. Yes, at some level we all do know that, but it doesn’t hurt to repeat it when someone seems to be discouraged. Try to see the comment in the positive light in which it was most likely intended.

          Because it really sounds like you are dealing with a manager (and possibly larger institution) that does a terrible job at this and hired someone underqualified and that could be for plenty of reasons that may not be worth impacting your future decisions (other than perhaps focusing on other employers that do value the things you do, like attention to detail and proper writing). Certainly, you can do whatever you like and spending less time on cover letters may end up working out better for you, but I think the caution to not generalize based on a few anecdotal experiences is wise.

          1. InHigherEd*

            I agree with Michelle Smith’s take on this. I’ll also go out on a limb here and recommend leaving Higher Ed. I’m definitely biased here, but you sound like a competent person who’s now in a crappy org.

            I bet the people who got hired instead of you did not in fact have better cover letters. My guess would be that they know someone, or come across as a person with the right vibe, and that vibe that makes them fit in… sucks. Higher Ed doesn’t pay well enough to put up with a crappy environment. I mean, they declined your candidacy and then you were on the hiring committee. I hope there was a reason they declined you that still made you feel valued. Otherwise it’s just painful to see the other candidates go through the process.

    2. Baron*

      My first thought is that cover letters probably matter less for internal applicants, because your manager already knows you.

    3. Lily Rowan*

      Honestly, sounds like it is time to send those great letters outside of your current institution!

    4. Wannabe Expat*

      This sounds like a bad boss with a bad hiring practice, honestly. I’m fresh on the job scene looking for a tenure track job in higher ed and I’ve gotten more interviews than my peers thanks to a stellar and customized cover letter. Please do keep writing elaborate cover letters – they help! Just look elsewhere for employment.

  10. Morning Coffee*

    I have been too to write stuff like “I found out about this job while talking with my friend and I got interested in it because I am passionate about sea corals.” and “in lama medical office I was operating phones and it was a lesson in how to deal with people and how situations can be surprising, but work still goes on. I think this is useful skill since (this open job) requires ability to stay calm when whales attack”. My problem is that sometimes whole cover letter is just chatter and seems to me rather unprofessional or too informal.

    1. NoOneWillSeeThisComment*

      What works best for me, and is something I learned from Alison, is to give specific examples. Not just operating phones = dealing with people, but a specific time you dealt with a frustrated/scared/confused/unhelped etc person and how you solved the problem.

      Sometimes “chatter” has a purpose. I once wrote in a cover letter that Fred frequently told others with questions that I ‘knew everything’ and to ask me, and that I wish he could tell my mom that…but that was for an internal job application, so it made more sense to use that tone, esp because the hiring manager knew me.

      1. WantonSeedStitch*

        “Sometimes “chatter” has a purpose.”

        Yup. “chatter” is just a dismissive term for “communication.”

    2. Michelle Smith*

      It might feel less like chatter if it has a structure. Not in these words obviously, but something like
      * Intro – specific role, company, express interest/passion
      * Important skill to the role – example of how I have it/use it [repeat as many times as is necessary for the most important skills or skills not obvious from my resume while keeping the word/page limit in mind]
      * Anything else important to address? [e.g., sometimes I’ve applied to jobs that require you to state in the cover letter your salary requirements; I usually put stuff like that at the end rather than in the intro]
      * Conclusion/call to action – availability, expressing hope to be invited to interview

      Thoughts on that kind of structure to make it feel less like chatter?

  11. Anonymouse*

    A bad cover letter is full of BS…I wonder if your ignore-it-all system has resulted in GOOD hires??

  12. Huzzah!*

    I followed AAM’s previous advice and landed an interview and a job using it! 12/10 recommend!!

  13. Agile Phalanges*

    I think the naming convention point at the end is a good one. When I’m job-searching, I name the files (resume AND cover letter, since both are customized) with the company and job title, plus the date, for my own records. But before I go to send them out, I save a version with my name and then position, so if they’re a drag-and-drop kind of person, it will clearly have my name right on the file, and hopefully not have to be renamed with “…37” or something at the end.

  14. Abe Froman*

    I think I have a pretty decent resume, but I firmly believe that great cover letters have gotten me more first interviews than I would have gotten with just a resume. Its an opportunity to be excited (for the job) and exciting (to read about). I often talk about the parts of a role that I love and how I excelled at them, and I think that kind anecdote really can catch someone’s eye.

    1. NeedRain47*

      Same. Cover letters are the one area I was already excelling at before I started reading askamanager, even. A page is plenty of space to personalize why I’d be good at that particular job in a way that resumes don’t, as well as demonstrating that I’m a more than decent writer. I feel like people who don’t bother are doing themselves a disservice.

  15. Turanga Leela*

    I see that my sign-off should be “reasonably professional and not too creative.” Guess I should stop closing my letters with “Stay classy, San Diego.”

  16. Former Young Lady*

    Relatedly: is anyone else seeing an influx of cover letters that are obviously plagiarized, in whole or in part?

    My employer tends to make cover letters “optional” as a default for most job postings. If we don’t specify that they’re required, many applicants don’t bother, and of those who do, about one-third to one-half appear to have lifted their cover letter from one or more other sources. (In a particularly egregious example, a candidate for a mid-career admin position had apparently played mad-libs with a sample letter for a software developer. It made no sense!)

    Is this a result of people using ChatGPT? Is it a legacy of bad advice from (e.g.) college career services offices? Do people just think, “Nobody will notice”? Am I overreacting?

    1. Wannabe Expat*

      While college career services give awful advice, I will say I haven’t (yet) heard one advocating for using ChatGPT for cover letters nor taking someone else’s. Academia does take plagiarism seriously.

      As someone who teaches composition, I do see that students tend to cheat for two main reasons: one, they’re afraid they don’t know how to accomplish the task at hand and copy ideas they feel are better than their own from someplace else or two, plain old entitlement and not wanting to do the assignment. I’m not sure if something similar is going on with cover letters and your experience, but I can see how a clueless candidate sees an example cover letter and thinks they can’t do better or just don’t feel like making one despite it being required.

    2. Alisaurus*

      Interestingly, I saw an article not long ago (forgive me, I did not save the link) about a TikTok “job-hunting hack” video where the guy was using ChatGPT and some other AI/bot program to write cover letters based on the job listing. The bot would find listings online, then ChatGPT would update his template cover letter based on keywords in the job listing, then the bot would submit his application. He was bragging about placing hundreds of job applications a day this way.

      I believe the commentary was mostly on the side of it being wrong, potentially hazardous to his chances as an applicant, and “what do you do when a job reaches out and you don’t know what the role is?”

  17. Coverage Associate*

    My experience with law firms has been that cover letters are a “thing” if you don’t have another “in.”

    My current job I worked with a recruiter and was never asked for a cover letter. Likewise with 2 recent hires we were cherry picking. My last job I had a connection to a junior partner, and they didn’t ask for a cover letter. But I was there for 5 years, and the senior partner cared about cover letters from applicants not applying through a recruiter.

    But maybe the market is getting more efficient. I am looking now, and lots of places have set up their LinkedIn application portal so there’s no place to submit a cover letter. I got a bunch of interview requests just by updating my LinkedIn profile, even before I had an updated resume. It’s all been so fast I haven’t been customizing my resume, especially where I have an “in” that knows my experience.

  18. Anon in Canada*

    My industry (retail banking) has 5 major companies.

    Three don’t accept cover letters at all in their ATS’s. One has a location where a cover letter can be uploaded, but explicitly states in the application process “To make applying easier, we don’t ask for a cover letter.” (Maybe they ask for it in high-level positions.). Only one requires a cover letter for all positions. I’m so glad I’m spared from this nonsense! I say nonsense because it’s painfully obvious that most hiring managers aren’t reading them (I know that from working at the one company that required them).

    Requiring cover letters for minimum wage retail, food service and hospitality jobs (except perhaps fine dining restaurants?) is asinine. There is nothing to say and just no way those are being read.

  19. Mostly Managing*

    Eons ago (like, about 25 years or so) part of my job was screening resumes and cover letters, and passing the “potentially worth interviewing” ones on to my boss.

    There was one cover letter I will never forget. It was amazing.
    It was so good, that I put the guy on the “interview” pile *even though he had accidentally mailed us two copies of page two of his resume, and missed out page one!!*
    The combination of “amazing cover letter” and “if this is page two, I want to see page one!” along with “he’s never going to be in charge of assembling mail-outs” got him the interview.
    He was hired.
    He was fabulous.

  20. A Curate? How Interesting*

    I’m hiring right now, and I want to send this advice to all of the candidates.

    Also, and I can’t believe we need to tell candidates this, indicate your interest in the job you’re applying for. I work in a “cool” industry in a supporting role. Let’s say I work in Marketing for a crypto company. I have gotten multiple cover letters explaining how the candidate is applying to this opening to get a foot in the door to the industry, and in six months, they’ll transition to the “real” part of the company, where they’ll make it big as a crypto whiz.

    1. Alisaurus*

      I’ve seen this too! I guess they have honesty going for them? But I’m always shocked at those letters because they’re basically telling me they have no intent to stay in the role for long and no desire to actually do the job they’re applying for.

      While I get that you never know how long someone will stay in a role or what their actual level of enthusiasm is for the job, that doesn’t seem like something an applicant should want to lead with…

      1. A Curate? How Interesting*

        Right? It’s wild. It’s almost insulting because it’s clear they don’t see my field as a “real” career anyone would want. I think the overconfidence bothers me, too. The people who do this usually aren’t qualified for this role or the one they think they’ll transfer into, but they’re so sure of themselves that they put it in their cover letter.

  21. Alisaurus*

    As an assistant, one part of my job is to receive and sort through applications for open roles, which I then pass along to my boss. The lack of cover letters always surprises me, even though we’ve had a couple of jobs where writing was a critical part of the job itself and the listing included a note that, due to this, we’d like to see those demonstrated in a cover letter. If it’s an amazing resume, I’ll still pass their info along to my boss, but it’s a pretty big strike if they can’t send all required materials in the application.

    I’ve also seen several since I started reading this blog that I immediately pegged as someone who used the advice here to write a cover letter. Which, hey, more power to them! But it always makes me smile when I see that.

  22. dcm*

    I’d love to read this link, but the paywall prevents it. :(
    How is everyone else able to access the New York Magazine?

  23. Fez Knots*

    Reading these comments has me wishing AAM would address a question I’ve had for a long time: are cover letters becoming obsolete?

    Of course this depends on so many things: the field, career changes, application requirements, etc. But more and more, I’m applying to jobs online that don’t even give you an option to include a cover letter.

    I’m only 34, and when I was first out of graduate school a decade ago, it was still kosher to call and follow up on an application (in fact, that’s how I got my second job post-grad!) That is now widely considered to be inappropriate and 99% of hiring managers/job postings specifically state you should NOT call to follow up. I think cover letters are going this way, tbh, but they’ve long been AAM’s bread and butter. So I’m curious to hear more about this trend.

    I’m not saying cover letters are out, as someone who changed careers just before I turned 30, I still use them to share with potential clients how my experience in both areas will serve them. But generally, I’m not using them at all, and not because I’ve decided they’re “out” but because employers aren’t asking for them at all.

  24. Katherine*

    Thank you! I got Reduction in Force’d and am having to apply around again, so this was very timely.

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